David Orentlicher, a law professor (Indiana), poses the following hypothetical over at The Faculty Lounge with respect to President Obama’s recent statement that business owners do not achieve their successes on their own. I am far less interested in the President’s original statement, its context, and so on, than in the religious analogy offered by Professor Orentlicher (this is CLR Forum, after all):
[C]onsider how the critics would respond to a somewhat different phrasing that probably has been expressed by other elected officials and perhaps Obama as well.
Suppose a candidate said that entrepreneurs don’t achieve their successes on their own but benefit from the good grace of God. Would business owners be offended by the suggestion that their achievements are the result of more than their own inventiveness, resourcefulness and hard work? I’ve always appreciated the fact that a Sabbath day of rest reminds us that the world goes on even when we are not working, that we are not responsible for all the good that comes to us.
To be sure, there are two parts to the critique of Obama. On one hand, it is said, he doesn’t give sufficient credit to creators of companies. On the other hand, he gives too much credit to government. My alternative phrasing gives credit to God rather than government, and many business owners may feel that they get more help from God than they do from government. Indeed, they may see government as more of a hindrance than a helper. But it’s worth remembering that God can put us through tribulations too, as America’s farmers are finding this year.
I find the hypothetical fascinating not so much on the substance, but for what it says about the world view that would see an equivalence between the two scenarios. Many people might not see an equivalence between giving credit for their successes to God, on the one hand, and to the government, on the other, because they believe that God is God, while the government is not God. To believe this, one need not be inherently suspicious of government, or believe that government is a force for evil, or any such nonsense. One might merely think that, notwithstanding one’s own disagreements with it, the government is as a general matter composed of well-meaning people who try to do their best by their lights but who, like the rest of us (and unlike God), can and often do get things wrong. But to believe that the cases are equivalent, or even analogous, one needs to have a very high opinion of the government and its powers indeed.